KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Cultivating Connection: 8 Tips for Interpreters and Translators to Tackle Loneliness


In 2022 I facilitated a session of the Language Access Café at the NCIHC Annual Membership Meeting and was asked to speak about interpreter self-care. Prior to the meeting, I decided to do an informal survey of medical interpreters asking them some questions about their mental health. I wanted to have a little bit of data that would clue me in on some of the issues interpreters were facing. While most of the results I shared during the AMM focused on stressors and supports, I also briefly shared some of the unexpected trends that came out of my analysis of the data.

A slide of miscellaneous findings from the 2022 Medical Interpreter Mental Health Survey that was presented at the 2022 NCIHC AMM

A finding that perhaps I didn’t highlight as much as I could have was that medical interpreters, especially remote (over the phone or video remote) interpreters, don’t know where to turn when they need support. In keeping with this, more than a few respondents specifically mentioned being lonely in their role. As an in-person interpreter who runs more than a few online communities for interpreters and translators, I have to admit I’ve never really felt this way. In the end, these findings really opened my eyes to the loneliness that other interpreters face. It also confirmed just how important it is to do your research before speaking on behalf of a particular group, even if you belong to it!

This wasn’t the last time I was faced with the truth about the loneliness some interpreters face. I started the Interpreter and Translator Peer Support Group in August of 2020 as a space for interpreters and translators to talk about the unique issues they face, as well as how their mental health can be affected. While we were originally a small private Facebook group, we now hold live monthly meetings over Zoom, have our own Facebook page, and are nearly 900 members strong. While I can’t share specifics due to the private nature of our group, I can say that loneliness is an issue that in-person interpreters, remote interpreters, and translators all face to varying degrees. While it may not be the #1 issue affecting our mental health, it still needs to be addressed.

It makes sense that interpreters and translators can sometimes feel lonely. I’d venture a guess that the majority of us are independent contractors or freelancers, meaning many of us don’t really have coworkers. Even if we do have coworkers, we may still be working on our own, such as in our own office or in another location where we’re not interacting with them on any sort of regular basis. In addition, over-the-phone interpreters, video remote interpreters, and translators, often work remotely or from home.

“I’m Feeling Lonely, What Should I Do?”

Today is National Cheer Up the Lonely day, and loneliness among people who work for themselves, as well as people who work remotely, is actually pretty well-documented. The good news is that there are a lot of articles with tips for how to address feelings of loneliness for freelancers and remote workers. The bad news? There are a lot that give different tips, and some of them offer suggestions that just aren’t feasible for interpreters and translators. This is why I performed some statistical magic with 8 of the top articles about this topic, determined the most recommended tips, and wrote this article incorporating those top tips, gearing them towards the unique aspects of our roles.

1. Work in a different space for some of your tasks.

The top tip according to my handy dandy, overly-complicated spreadsheet I used, was working outside of your normal space. My immediate thought was: how are those of us who deal with sensitive information (e.g., medical, educational, legal) and/or have very specialized setups supposed to do this?

Let’s imagine you interpret over the phone and you have to take calls from your home office. It’s the only space you have that’s HIPAA and/or FERPA-compliant with a wired internet connection, all requirements for taking calls with the company you provide services for. How can you possibly work from somewhere else?

Can you get a wired Ethernet connection here? Or at least WiFi? I have questions.

Consider all the tasks you perform in a day as part of your line of work. Do you ever have to check your emails? Are there trainings you have to complete every so often to remain in compliance? Maybe you spend time studying vocabulary or preparing glossaries. Do you ever have to prepare presentations? You may dedicate some time every week to verify your call logs, or even do your own accounting.

While the bulk of your work may not be possible in another space, you may be able to make time for yourself every week to perform these other tasks in a coffee shop, a co-working space, or even on your porch or balcony.

2. Find community, online or off.

If it weren’t for online communities for interpreters, I’d probably feel lonely too! There are no shortage of communities on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social networks for interpreters and translators. Contrary to popular belief, yes you can create lasting, meaningful connections with others online. I’m still close with many of my online friends, many of whom I have also met in person, from as far back as 2005. They may not be interpreters or translators, but they’re proof that online friendships can be fulfilling and enduring.

When it comes to online communities, I’d like to address a concern others often bring to my attention. Yes, online communities can be toxic, and I’ve left more than a few of them for that very reason. But not all online communities are created equal, and not everyone you meet online is going to be a massive edgelord. Any online community worth its salt will have leaders who actively cultivate a positive community culture. I run a few of my own groups, and while the work that goes into maintaining them is often underestimated, I am incredibly proud of the positive and uplifting culture they are built upon.

One of the groups I founded, the Interpreter & Translator Peer Support Group, is a super supportive and positive space. Come check us out!

But as much as I preach the gospel of online communities, the fact remains that community doesn’t have to be online. You can use online tools to find in-person communities, such as through MeetUp, or make a point of going out and participating in local events that sound interesting to you. Open your mind to the possibility that you might be able to make new connections anywhere outside of your home or office.

3. Schedule time to be social.

One article entitled “How to Avoid Feeling Lonely When You Work Alone” brought up a really great point: some of us purposefully choose to work flexible schedules, but don’t end up using that flexibility to our advantage. Why not schedule a lunch date with someone in the middle of your work day? You have to eat anyways, you likely have down time during your day, why not turn this into an opportunity to socialize or do something fun?

The best way to turn something into a habit is building it straight into your schedule, and if you find yourself feeling lonely, it might be a sign that you need to develop social habits. Even if you don’t have time during your workday, you can set a goal to schedule plans with a friend after work once a week or every other week. If you find yourself pressed for time, you can turn something you already do into a social experience. Who says you have to go grocery shopping alone? Chances are, someone you know has to go grocery shopping too and would probably love the company.

4. Consider getting a pet.

Kaida, my partner in crime for 15 years. I never felt lonely when he was around!

I won’t mince words: a pet is a huge responsibility. So long as you see that responsibility for what it is, there’s no shame in getting yourself a furry (or scaley?) companion if you feel lonely and have the room in your home, heart, and wallet. If you’re seriously considering a pet for this reason, make sure to get a pet whose temperament and needs would mesh nicely with you and your lifestyle. If you’ve never had a pet before, I highly recommend doing a ton of research to get a better idea of what a potential pet might mean for you in terms of upkeep, expenses, and commitment. Pets can be life-changing and go a long way in easing loneliness, but the last thing you want to do is return the favor by not providing it with what it needs to thrive.

5. Stay on top of your self care game.

Have you ever felt lonely in a crowded room? The fact that we are capable of feeling this way just highlights how the solution to loneliness isn’t always socializing. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you may feel unmotivated and find it difficult to branch out and make connections with others. You may experience negative internal dialogue, feel skeptical that others really have any interest in connecting with you, or even feel too overwhelmed to take the first step in overcoming how you feel. Self care is integral to your mental health, and poor mental health can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.

“Look at all these self-care products!” Newsflash: self care isn’t a product and doesn’t have to cost a dime. (Photo by Rachel Claire)

Self care can even open more doors to addressing feelings of loneliness. Taking up a hobby or reviving an old one is excellent self care, but it can lead to you seeking out events or community with other hobbyists. Not taking enough breaks at work? Maybe making an extra trip or two to the water cooler can present an opportunity to interact more with your coworkers. The possibilities are endless if you take a multi-pronged approach.

6. Don’t just chat or text, do a phone or video call.

So many of us have resigned ourselves to text messages and messenger chats. I know I’m preaching to the choir when I tell linguists that so much of our communication goes beyond the words we choose. Whatever happened to hearing someone else’s voice? Seeing their face? These are all vital aspects of human connection.

If you find yourself sending lots of texts, chats, and messages, but still feeling lonely, consider upgrading to a phone or video call every once in a while. Not only does this allow you to feel more connected to the other person or people, it can also transform what may have only otherwise been a micro-conversation into a full-fledged immersive social interaction. You might be surprised at just how far this can go with addressing feelings of loneliness!

7. Break out of your comfort zone (be creative!)

One of the first articles I read suggested going outside of your comfort zone. If you find making new connections with people difficult or intimidating, the article suggests finding environments in which everyone is feeling a similar way– namely, uncomfortable. These can be events in which everyone is trying something new for the first time, like an open mic night or learning a new sport or hobby. You’d be surprised how quickly strangers can find connection through similar feelings!

If everyone’s an amateur, it’s hard to tell if people are laughing at your jokes, or if it’s nervous laughter because their turn is next…

The same article also talked about the flip side of the same coin: finding something that you already feel really, really comfortable with, and using that as a starting point to build connections. What are your interests? What’s something you are incredibly familiar with or have a lot of knowledge about? Think about situations you could place yourself in that harness those things with which you are most comfortable.

But let’s go back to breaking out of our comfort zones, shall we? Some of the other articles I looked at provided some equally interesting suggestions along these lines. One of my favorites was sending an e-mail thanking a stranger for their work. The author of the article explains, “I like to periodically send emails to people online whose work I’ve found valuable. It’s led to some great conversations.” He even goes on to mention he’s run in to some of these people at events later, and that as a result of those e-mails, they already have a connection.

8. Support others by mentoring or volunteering.

Have you ever considered mentoring another interpreter or translator? If you think you have nothing to offer a prospective mentor, think again! What are some of the things you know now that you wish you knew when you first started out? And mentoring isn’t even limited to interpretation or translation! You can mentor people who are learning your working languages, or even break away from languages altogether. What are the unique skills and abilities you have? The possibilities are endless.

Volunteering is also a fantastic way to connect with other people who care about the same things you do. Again, you can go the interpretation or translation route, put your working languages to good use in some other way, or just volunteer for a cause that you feel strongly about. If you don’t know where to start, you can think about your interests– in my case, I like animals and video games– and search volunteer opportunities that align with them. I already know I’d be a good fit for volunteering at an animal shelter just off the top of my head, but just now I looked up “volunteer playing video games” and apparently there’s an organization that sets up gamers with volunteer opportunities in children’s hospitals!

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More Suggestions

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I compiled these suggestions based on a bunch of popular articles about overcoming loneliness for freelancers and remote workers. These were just the top 8 tips based on my handy dandy spreadsheet. For more suggestions, you can always check out the original articles I used as inspiration for this one here:

  1. Working for yourself, not by yourself: A guide to tackling isolation and loneliness when self-employed on Leapers
  2. The Ultimate Guide to Avoiding Freelancer Loneliness and Isolation by Ryan Waggoner
  3. Five ways to combat loneliness as a lone-worker by Tom West on Crunch.
  4. How to Avoid Feeling Lonely When You Work Alone by Alexis Reale on flexjobs
  5. 10 Tips to Avoid Loneliness When Working From Home or Working Remotely by Sophia Barron on Owl Labs
  6. Five Tips To Avoid Feeling Lonely When Working Remotely by Benjamin Rojas on Forbes
  7. 15 top tips to beat loneliness when working from home on cocoroco
  8. 6 Ways to Deal With Loneliness When You’re Working Remotely by Abigale Lim on Make Use Of

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About the author

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

Kelly is a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. She work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical and mental health interpreter. Her passions include affirming interpretation for sexual and gender diverse populations, supporting interpreter mental health, and interpreting developmental-behavioral pediatrics.

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KGH Interpretation Spanish-English Medical & Mental Health Interpretation

Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez

I am a Certified Medical/Healthcare Interpreter (CMI-Spanish, CHI-Spanish) and a medical interpreter trainer. I work as an independent contractor in the greater Richmond, Virginia area as a Spanish-English medical interpreter. Click here to read more about me.

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